My Garden Journal 2018 – February

Part two of my 2018 Garden Journal sees us still freezing cold and struggling to get time in the garden.

I opened my February entries by noting, “February is the month when we feel that the quality of the light improves and makes us feel better and there are definite signs of the days lengthening. Early bulbs begin flowering and others are showing strong leaf growth.”

  

I next sought out another quote from Dan Pearson’s book, “Natural Selection” and was pleased to find this one, “Making room for the winter garden is every bit as important as managing a garden that draws your attention in the dark months.”

 

Turning over to the next double page spread I write about newly acquired plants.

 

“It is always an enjoyable time planting newly acquired plants but it is an extra-special experience doing so in February. We were delighted to find good healthy specimens of two fastigiate plants, a Taxus baccata “Fastigiata Robusta” and an Ilex crenata “Fastigiata”. The only two fastigiate plants we have already established at Avocet are a Berberis and an Oak, Berberis thunbergia fastigiata atropurpurea “Helmond Pillar” , (a tall thin shrub  with a long thin name!” and Quercus palustris “Green Pillar” which despite its name is grown for its deep red autumn colour.”

  

We also recently planted a Viburnum with a very different growth habit to our fastigiate purchases. It is a low growing shrub with a very open, airy growth and sweetly scented flowers in April. It is also described as “almost evergreen”, so we will wait and see exactly how ours behaves. We already have a good collection of Viburnums around our Avocet patch.”

 

Some of my watercolour sketches of Hellebores and details of their petals feature on the next page.

 

“Hellebores peak in February adding a richness with the deep reds and purples as well as cheeriness with their yellow flowers.”

“I love turning up each flower to reveal its beauty, its colours and markings of spots and streaks.”

 

On the opposite page I looked at some of our grasses with winter interest and share some photos of them.

“In late February we begin to cut down “deciduous” grasses, choosing the right time to avoid cutting through this year’s new growth. Evergreen grasses especially varieties of Carex  come into their own especially when partnered with evergreen foliage plants such as ferns, bergenias and arums.”

 

Moving on to the final double page spread for February, I considered coloured stemmed Dogwoods and a look at roses as they give their final points of interest before they are pruned and begin to grow anew for this year.

“The coloured stems of Dogwoods add so much colour to the winter borders. We use them to catch the rays of the low sun which helps them to glow and liven up our garden.”

 

I finished off my February journal entries by featuring roses and a very special plant, special because it is a dogwood that occurred in our garden as a chance seedling of Midwinter Fire crossed with one of our other Cornus plants. We have grown it on and now take lots of cuttings hoping to bulk it up. We hope to be able then to sell them at our open days. Very exciting!

I wrote, “Our Cornus Midwinter Fire throws up new plants from runners and occasionally a few from seed. The runners are identical to the parent plant but the seedlings can vary a lot. We pot the seedlings on and then plant them out on our allotment plot to allow us to identify “star plants”. We have one which is far redder than its parents and has better autumn colour. We are propagating these (see below). We have named it Cornus “Arabella’s Crimson” after our granddaughter.”

My final page is about roses and yellow flowers of the February garden. The yellow flowers are Jasminum nudiflorum, Cornus mas and a pale yellow rose bud. I wrote “Sparkling spots of yellow flowers brighten up the February weather, fighting against this month’s greys.”

“Late February is the time when we begin  pruning our bush roses in readiness for the new growing season. We always find wrinkled rose hips and even the odd flower bud.

 

“Next month is one we really look forward to. Already by mid-February light values have improved, but soon Spring may begin to creep in!”

 

 

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A Wonderful Welsh Winter Walk – Erddig Hall

We took a short one hour drive out into Wales today to visit a National Trust property, Erddig which we hoped would afford us the opportunity of exploring a garden with winter interest, interest found in its formal structure, its topiary and imaginative pruning as well as planting. We knew that it holds the National Collection of Hedera (Ivies), so we had something specific and extra to look for too.

After too many wet weeks the day dawned bright and we were to be treated to a day of bright winter sunshine, which would play with shadows and light throughout our walk. We were surprised to discover that the whole place, buildings and gardens were in a state of disrepair bordering on dereliction in the 1960’s when a new owner decided to rescue it and awaken a real jewel of a property.

Two welcome signs greeted us as we entered, a rustic overhead design and another with a beautiful quote which read, “Where fragrance, peace and beauty reign ….”. We would soon see if this were true.

 

The garden is Grade 1 listed and is based around the 18th Century design. Amazingly it works well today! Even the car park and courtyards on the way in had points of interest to us gardeners, some of the Ivy cultivars, ancient wall-trained fruit, a beautifully carved wooden seat featuring carved horse heads and a vintage garden watering cart. We soon met our first Hederas (Ivy) in the collection, an unlabelled specimen which grew to frame a window, and one with beautiful foliage, Hedera hiburnicum variegata.

   

A feature we were looking forward to at Erddig was the huge variety of creatively pruned trees, both fruit trees and conifers. Some of these fruit trees must be decades old but are still skillfully pruned. Really well pruned and trained fruit trees are really beautiful. It felt good to see these age old gardening skills carrying on so professionally.

    

We discovered this double row of pleached limes after spotting an orange glow as the winter sun caught the new twigs and buds.

 

Beautifully topiarised conifers were presented in neat rows and as hedges throughout the formal garden area.

       

Not all the conifers were trimmed and controlled though, some were left to mature and become tall proud specimens.

 

We loved this tall double row of pollarded Poplar trees towering above our path, their network of silhouettes highlighted against the blue sky. This added to the strong structure of the garden.

 

We love to see a touch of humour in gardens and points of interest for children and we enjoyed a few here as we wandered around Erddig.

 

Erddig holds the National collection of Ivies, growing a huge selection of Hedera, but it took us along time to find the organised and well-labelled display of them growing along an old brick-built wall. We were amazed by the sheer variety, from plants with plain green typical leaves to those with the most beautiful and subtle variegation.

 

Don’t you just love to see what gardeners are up to when you visit a garden? Here hedge cutting and mulching borders with rich well-matured farmyard manure were keeping the gardeners on their toes. We were very impressed with the quality of their work and the evidence of a sense of pride in everything they did.

From the front of the house itself we found some wide views over the surrounding countryside.

 

I have only briefly mentioned the Ivy collection at Erddig so far but I will change all that by sharing a collection of my pics of the Ivies as a gallery. Please enjoy by clicking on the first photo and using the arrows to navigate.

Hollies feature too with a lovely varied collection sadly with no labels but here are some to enjoy anyway.

Each photo of an Ilex tree is matched with a close up of its foliage.

So you can appreciate just how impressed we were with the gardens at Erddig on our return visit after many years. We will be returning more often in the future!

Posted in Flintshire, fruit and veg, garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, National Trust, ornamental trees and shrubs, The National Trust, Wales, Winter Gardening, winter gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Simply Beautiful – No 18 in an occasional series

For my eighteenth post in this occasional series concerning thing that are “simply beautiful” I want to share some photographs of a small vase of flowers cut from our November garden and displayed in our bathroom window.

Posted in grasses, hardy perennials, light, light quality | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Two RHS Gardens – Part 2 Harlow Carr

To visit the second of the RHS gardens we visited during 2017 we had to travel north up to Yorkshire and we stayed near Harrogate, a beautiful spa town. This is the RHS garden we probably visit the most as it is our favourite and we love the area it is situated in. We chose to go up in late summer. We particularly enjoy the Winter Garden and the new perennial gardens and as we had already visited to see the Winter Garden so we needed to see the perennials borders too.

The RHS are excellent at giving a warm welcome to its visitors and we certainly felt that at their most northerly garden, beautiful planters, great breakfast at the famous “Betty’s Tearooms” and cheerful plants as we entered the main gardens, including bright, cheerful meadow planting.

A recent children’s competition involving creating miniature gardens in old boots provided some entertainment at the bottom of the main steps into the garden.

Next we will share moments we enjoyed as we made our way towards the educational centre with its new buildings, glasshouse and plantings.

The gardens around the education centre provide a fine example of contemporary plant choice and plant combinations, starring grasses and tall airy perennials, growing beautifully among gravel, a wildlife pond and a contemporary styled vegetable garden alongside. Even the seating has been carefully chosen to look just right. Nothing has been left to chance!

       

As mentioned at the beginning of this post we were looking forward in particular to wandering around the borders of “new perennial planting” especially as we were visiting when it should be its prime time. So please enjoy this wander with us by following the gallery. Click on the first picture then navigate with the arrows.

 

When we were finishing our visit to this wonderful RHS garden we made our way back for a final coffee before finding our car and returning to our hotel, and noticed a large and very beautiful insect hotel alongside the path. It was an heartening end to our exploration.

Posted in garden design, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, grasses, hardy perennials, meadows, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, RHS, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hyde Hall and its Dry Garden

As promised we now return once again to share our experience and enjoyment of our visit to RHS garden Hyde Hall and in particular to celebrate the famous Dry Garden. This was a small patch when we first saw it but a recent revamp has seen it develop greatly in scale but more importantly the addition of new plants has enhanced the original scheme. This patch of planting is on a gentle knoll of land and the plants in it have never been fed or watered since they were first planted. We were interested in this as we treat areas of our Avocet patch in exactly the same way. To us it seems a very natural way to garden, being much as Mother Nature intended for some wild areas.

Gravel is the mulch surface through which plants are planted and clear gravel patches become paths and ways to explore the plantings. Right on the very top is a stunning wooden seat, which is a splendid place to sit and look all around every degree of the full 360 view!

  

I shall now share a selection of photos I took of the dry garden to give you an impression of the style and character of the planting.

There is another phase of development underway at Hyde Hall so we need to visit again soon to see what is going on – can’t wait!

Posted in colours, conservation, garden design, garden furniture, garden photography, garden seat, garden seating, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, grasses, hardy perennials, light, light quality, ornamental grasses, RHS | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Garden Journal 2018 – January

Welcome to another year of my garden journal. This first post is all about a very cold January, but we decided to defy the weather and garden anyway. So let’s see what is going on at Avocet and share with you our jobs successfully achieved.

On my first double page spread I share the new materials I will be using this year and mention that my journal this year will be created in a larger, landscape format a Daler-Rowney art book.

I will keep my notes in a beautiful blue notebook, a gift from a friend and will write my monthly musings with another fine gift, this time from daughter, Jo and son-in-law, Rob, an Art Pen by Rotring. My notes will be written using a bamboo mechanical pencil and pen a gift from Jude’ sister, Pauline and brother-in-law Steve.

  

During 2018 I aim to try out different art media and techniques to help illustrate my written words, tubed watercolours, soft pastels and acrylics. I may also use two of these media together, and perhaps try some collage pieces. Over the page I shall get this 2018 journal started by looking at our many cultivars of Ivies.

“We always consider Ivy to be a stalwart of the Winter Garden, they cheer us up with their silver and gold variegations. They keep our wildlife happy too providing shelter, berries and their late flowers which appear when few plants are providing pollen.”

       

On the right hand page I painted foliage of some of the varieties we grow around our garden, using tubed watercolours.

Over the page I take a look at some of our wildlife and the habitats and shelters we provide for them. I wrote, “We hope that the different shelters we provide for our garden wildlife helps them through the Winter months. We look at each shelter hoping all is well but really we can’t tell at all.”

        

“Enjoying winter chores in January improves our mood, as it feels so good to be outside in touch with Mother Nature in her stripped-down bare glory. Enjoyment is enhanced by the sound, sight and movement of birds feeding on both the food we grow for them, as well as sunflower hearts and “no-mess” bird seed mix we put out in feeders. Birds arrive in flocks, flocks that give some security from predators, that give a chance to share intelligence concerning availability of food and to give extra heat and insulation during bleak winter weather.”

Turning over the page to the next double-page spread, on the left I looked at some fruits we grow and opposite a look at some scented plants.

“Rose hips and Ivy berries are two very different fruits of our Winter garden, the fruit of the rose is flagon shaped changing from green through to red whereas the Ivy transforms from green to black and brown. The rose hips are created from the death of blousy, double or single colourful flowers, the Ivy berries transform from the tiny, insignificant dull yellow flowers.”

 

“Scent becomes a powerful feature of the winter garden season in our garden. Small shrubs can fill the garden with their aroma and early bulbs add gentle scent at ground level. There are few pollinators around at this time of year so the flowers need strong scent to attract them.

The sweetest scent of all belongs to Daphne bhuloa “Jacqueline Postill”, but Sarcococca gives a good performance too. The Witch Hazels are far gentler and need you to put your nose close to appreciate their contribution.”

Hamamelis is the star of my next page and in particular Hamamelia intermedis “Jelena”

“Hamamelis, a winter flowering shrub we would never be without, with its brightly coloured and scented flowers in yellows, oranges and reds. Each flower is a burst of delicate ribbons bursting from a purple centre. We grow the deep orange flowered “Jelena” and the deep red flowered “Diane”, with Jelena  flowering early at the beginning of January and Diane coming into bloom weeks later.”

    

” There are still plenty of jobs to enjoy in the garden here in January. Nothing is more satisfying than wrapping up warm and defying the weather, going outside with a mug of warming coffee in gloved hands. It makes us true gardeners! We are helped by a Robin who accompanies us enjoying any grubs we unearth and his watery winter song is constantly in the background.

We prune climbing and rambling roses this month and tidy up Acers and Betulas. Perennials are left until early March but now we remove any that collapse or go slimy. As we do this we mulch the borders with a few inches of compost to slowly feed the soil and improve its texture. Wood ash from our wood-burning stove is scattered around all of our trees and shrubs. Group 3 clematis are pruned down to a foot just above strong, healthy buds which are already showing green colouring. The rich aromas from the winter-flowering shrubs lift our spirits and put smiles on our faces.”

I will be back soon reporting on my February ramblings from our garden.

Posted in climbing plants, flowering bulbs, garden photography, garden wildlife, gardening, hardy perennials, shrubs, spring bulbs, Winter Gardening, winter gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Two RHS Gardens – Part 1 – Hyde Hall

As members of the RHS we often visit their gardens and their partner gardens. Sadly it is a long journey to get to any of their main gardens so we do not visit as often as we would like. We make an effort to visit at least two each year.

In 2017 the two we selected were Hyde Hall in Essex and Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, two very different gardens, one in the south and one in the north. The first we visited was Hyde Hall which is the furthest away of all their gardens so we have only ever explored it once before. We made this journey in the middle of the summer and were looking forward in particular to seeing how the Dry Garden had developed as this was a new venture when we originally visited this garden. When we journey down to Essex we usually pay a visit to the garden of the great lady of British gardening, Beth Chatto, but this time we did not have time. But we will go to her garden soon when I will post about her incredible garden when we do. For now though we will concentrate on the gardens of Hyde Hall.

It is rarely possible to admire the planting within a car park, but at Hyde Hall the planting was worth looking at and photographing. It was based on new style perennial planting which had such a gentle calming effect on us as we walked from the car to the garden. Grasses and airy perennials were the mainstay of the plantings.

  

Once inside the gardens themselves, the quality of planting and the brilliant way in which plant partners were grouped were of the highest quality.

              

Grasses feature strongly at Hyde Hall adding texture to the landscape where grass is cut selectively, but different ornamental cultivars are used for structure and their architectural presence, and in mixed plantings for contrast, movement and for visitors to touch and stroke.

   

In places we could identify where plants had been chosen to take advantage of the light from the sun, using its brightness to encourage us to see reflection, shimmering light, glossy textures and contrasting patterns. Essex is dry and sunny particularly compared to our Shropshire climate. Using the brightness of the sun and the dryness of the climate to enhance gardens is so clever and not often done well. Hyde Hall is the star in this department.

In my second post about this wonderful RHS garden I shall focus on their famous Dry Garden, but for now I want to explore the way light is used so effectively in some areas. Light can emphasise glossiness of foliage, it can emphasise the interplay of light and shade and it can emphasise texture.

   

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